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Home | Got a Minute | Career advice | No. 119 – I hate my co-worker’s constant throat-clearing. What can I do?

No. 119 – I hate my co-worker’s constant throat-clearing. What can I do?

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9 August 2023

I work in an open-plan office where one of my co-workers clears his throat every five to 10 minutes. It’s both annoying and disgusting. I approached his manager, who is sympathetic, but they feel it’s difficult to bring up, as it’s been going on so long. Other than wear headphones, what can I do?

I feel icky even thinking about your situation, let alone having to be in your office and hear it all day. The problem I would have, in your shoes, is whether my “icky” is enough to justify asking someone to stop doing something that may be a health issue for them.

I would try and gently speak directly to the person involved. I would approach them with empathy and ask whether they have noticed it is happening (it may be so habitual they don’t even know), I would ask whether there is anything they can do to prevent it (there may not be), then I would be really honest about how it is hard to listen to all day.

I would also reassure the person this is nothing about them personally, but that you value your working relationship with them and so want to see if there might be a solution. If you don’t feel able to have that conversation, I would go back to his manager and ask for support. It doesn’t matter how long it has gone on for – if it’s causing others discomfort, a solution needs to be found.

I’m looking to get promoted from my technical role. Management has hinted that I need to stop being the “do-er” and demonstrate I’m able to lead a team. However, I’ve never had a say in recruiting, so the people we hire are usually unable to cope with the work. As a result, I’m always dragged back to non-managerial tasks. What can I do without being perceived as arrogant?

I suspect you may not like this advice, but please know it is given only to help you succeed in your hopes of becoming a leader.

I am afraid you need to stop seeing yourself as the smartest person in the room. Even if you do have the skills or background knowledge, as a leader, you must control your urge to prove it. I suspect what your management is wanting to see from you is an ability to help coach those in your team, so they can excel in their roles. They don’t need to see you pick up what isn’t being done, but they want to see you encourage, support and build a team of other capable people as well. I know it can be frustrating, and it can feel like it’s easier to just do things yourself. However, I think your secret to being well-placed for a promotion is to show you can help everyone in your team be as skilled as you. Once you can show you can do that, without needing to prove anything yourself, then I suspect your managers will be keen to see you put into a leadership role.

I work for a national company, and my store is the biggest earner in the region. While the pay is OK, there’s a bonus system, which helps make it a little better. However, over the last few years, my store has been treated unfairly when it comes to targets. My budgets are completely out of line with other stores in my area, so I haven’t been receiving a bonus. The figures make no sense and my boss says nobody can give him an answer. How do I handle this?

I would revisit this with your boss but ask a different question. Instead of asking him to explain how the targets are set, ask him to tell you how you can come up with a plan to find an answer to this problem together. Let him know this is an important issue and for a bonus to be effective, it needs to be specific, measurable and achievable. If you are unsure of how you are being assessed, and your boss is equally unaware, this is something you both must resolve together.

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